Interview – Erica Sandner of the Lyric Opera of Chicago Wine Auction

Happy new year!  It’s been a long time since I have written here.  Plenty going on my world; starting a new weekly video about wine, studying hard (as always) for my #Certified, and giving love to my baby sister blog, Still Searching For My First Growth.




Lyric Opera - On Stage


But Chicago Pinot is where info about Chicago wine people and events goes first, and I have an interview today with Erica Sandner, Chairman of the upcoming Lyric Opera of Chicago wine auction.  Ms. Sandner takes me backstage to describe the logistics in planning such a gala, and how you can participate in the auction even if unable to attend.




Lyric Opera - Place SettingYou can play the interview, which is linked to my public Google folder, here.  I’ll be volunteering at the event next Saturday, so please say hello if you see me.  And best of luck with your bidding!





Lyric Opera - Sizing up the Lots

Lyric Opera – 2015 Auction Catalog

Interview with Greg Gauthier of Bouchaine Vineyards in Carneros

Bouchaine and Me #2

“Boring winemaker equals boring wine.”

Last month, I had the pleasure of tasting the wines of Bouchaine Vineyards in the company of Greg Gauthier, the winery’s Vice President of Wine Production & Sales.  We met at River North establishment ZED 451 on a busy Friday night, where arguably, the dim mood and pumping music made it hard to concentrate on what we were tasting.  But Mr. Gauthier, anything but boring, really helped each of us tune out our surroundings and focus simply on what was in the glass.Bouchaine - Pinot Noir

Any question asked, by myself, or one of the restaurant’s guests, could inspire an extended, quite opinionated response from Gauthier.  He passionately dismissed the use of Stelvin closures, sang the praises of 100 % Pinot Meunier or immediately pouring the same Chardonnay into two different sized/shaped glasses, just to observe my eyes when I discovered, “yes, the glassware does make a difference”, he is an ambassador for California wine, and someone always looking for new challenges (he seemed almost wistful when discussing Syrah – “It could have been it’s own thing in California”).

Gauthier grew up in Chicago and has stints with Rodney Strong Vineyards, Sutter Home and Sebastiani Vineyards.  Currently he wears two hats for Bouchaine; Vice President of Wine Production and Sales, and Wine Production Advisor.  He also bottles under his own name; from plots in Carneros, Yountville and Sonoma Coast; you can check out his website here.


Bouchaine - Chardonnay



Bouchaine - Pinot Meunier

You can access my interview with Mr. Gauthier from two different places:

My Google Drive link here:

and my Dropbox link here:

Please email me at if you have trouble accessing or listening to the audio!

Video Vault Interview – Steve Fennell of Sanford Winery & Vineyards

On April 18, I had the pleasure of accepting an invitation from Two Restaurant and Bar in the West Loop, to taste the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Sanford Winery & Vineyards and meet winemaker Steve Fennell.

The picture is obviously a little dim, but hopefully you can hear it all OK. Please click the link below!

Sanford - Three Pinots









Sanford - SRA 2009 Pinot Noir

Sanford - SRA 2010 in Glass













Video Vault Interview – with Lisa Hallgren of Ravines Wine Cellars

Finger Lakes Map.jpg

The Finger Lakes of Upper New York State. Ravines Wine Cellars owns property adjacent to Seneca and Keuka Lakes.

View of Ravines from Keuka Lake.jpg

The view of Ravines from Keuka Lake.

Over the next few weeks, both here and on my Little Sister blog, I will be posting some videos previously seen only on YouTube.  This first one is an interview with Lisa Hallgren, winemaker at Ravines Wine Cellars, in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.  We tasted her wines at Sips on Sherman, the former WineStyles located just north of Chicago, in Evanston.  The Finger Lakes region is especially strong on Riesling and Cabernet Franc, Ms. Hallgren makes wine from these varieties along with Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir. You can watch the video at my link here.


Ravines - 2010 Chardonnay.jpg

2010 was a very warm vintage for the Finger Lakes.  There’s only 10 percent new oak added, the creamy texture comes from the lees stirring.  Lots of melon, ripe pear and toast.



Ravines - 2012 Dry Riesling.jpg

Walking through the ravines of upper New York State:  “You can smell the wet stone”; it really comes out on this Riesling.



Ravines - 2010 Keuka Village.jpg

A warm, humid vintage; definitely picked up the walnut and manderin orange on this one.  Definitely picked up on the botrysized fruit!

Event Preview – #Rueda Tasting June 12

I hope to meet many of you at this Thursday’s event celebrating the wines of the Rueda region of Spain!  It takes place this Thursday, June 12, at 6:00 p.m. at the Blue Star Wine Bar in West Town.  You can click the link below for tickets:

Rueda is located in North-Central Spain and is one of the nine DO’s (Denomination of Origin) of Castilla y Leon and the first one established in this region, in 1980.  The prominent grapes grown there are Verdejo, Viura and Sauvignon Blanc (there is also Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Garnacha planted here, but white plantings are dominant).

There is a spicy (think white pepper) and walnut flavor to these wines, based on the samples I tried this past weekend along with a grainy, almost pine-like texture.  The creamy but not too runny cheeses I paired with these wines brought out the flavors of both the wines and the cheeses.

Please say hello if you see me at the event or leave a comment below if you have any favorites from this region of Spain!  And check this website out for more information on Rueda:

100% Viura







Monte Enebro #2

The description of the cheese I paired my Verdejo (pictured above) at Bin 36.

Much More Golden!

The Finca Antigua, which I tasted at Bin 36 – 100% Viura and much darker in color than the 100% Verdejo I tasted at home.












Chicken Salad and 100% Verdejo

The salty, slightly vinegar-y potato chips definitely matched well with this Rueda wine; a 100% Verdejo.

Meet Brand Ambassador Lacey Burke of Ruinart

ruinart-blanc-de-blancs-brut-champagne-france-10568626LaceyBurke_791Inline image 1


In this week’s interview, Lacey Burke, U.S. Brand Ambassador for Ruinart, discusses the legendary Champagne house.  Ms. Burke worked in the restaurant business for over ten years, including sommelier positions in a few of NYC’s finest establishments including Grayz, Del Posto and Gotham Bar and Grill. In addition to working the floor as a sommelier, she also conducted educational seminars for private clients, and participated in tasting panels for Wine & Spirits magazine, and Eric Asimov’s New York Times column.


How and when did Ruinart begin and how has its style evolved over the generations?

Ruinart was founded in 1729 and although they have adjusted their winemaking techniques with the times, have always remained a house focused on fresh, elegant Champagne.

What is unique about its vineyard(s), soils, etc., compared to other Champagne houses?

We are known for our Blanc de Blancs, which is a very rare style of Champagne, since Chardonnay represents only about 30% Champagne vineyards. Over 55% of our supply is Chardonnay and a majority of our Chardonnay comes from Premiers Crus and Grands Crus vineyards.

What current styles does Ruinart make?  Are they all available in Chicago (any exclusive to restaurants?)

In the US you’ll find our NV Blanc de Blancs, Rose and vintage Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs and Dom Ruinart rosé.

Do you produce vintage Champagnes every year?  What are some of the most memorable vintages for Ruinart?

We only produce vintage Champagnes in years that are not only great, but great for Chardonnay. 2002 is showing particularly well right now!

I have to ask, what happened in 2013?  How devastating were the storms in Champagne to the vineyards?

Growing vines in 2013 was no easy task in France as many wine regions got hit by poor weather conditions, hail, diseases, resulting in sometimes devastating results in terms of crop size and quality. But Champagne remained largely unscathed, thanks to a perfect summer and a equally nice fall.  And despite the unusually late harvest, the wines, especially those made from chardonnay, are very promising, according to our Chef de Caves. There might even be a 2013 Ruinart vintage!

Now let’s talk about you for a moment.  How does one prepare to take on the role of brand ambassador for such a famous brand?  What are the roles you take on to promote Ruinart?

I spent about five years as a sommelier in two of the best New York City fine dining restaurants. My passion and knowledge for Champagne grew in these environments. I focus on education, consumer tastings, staff trainings and events to create awareness and excitement about Ruinart.

Have you discovered any unique pairings with Ruinart Champagnes?

I tend to lean towards classic pairings, but some personal favorites are sushi and Asian cuisine in general, and of course, French fries! A specific paring I particularly liked, was a beautiful duck confit cassoulet by Michelle Bernstein, with our 1998 Dom Ruinart rose’. I wasn’t sure if it could stand up to such a rich dish, but the results were phenomenal!

​Thank you for those great answers, Ms. Burke!  And good luck to all sommeliers in the Chicago edition of the Ruinart Challenge, taking place May 13 here in Chicago – someone will win a trip to Champagne (can you take me with you?)